The group of students letting out the loudest scream they could muster Wednesday afternoon in front of the Morgan Library was hard to miss. Heads all over the plaza turned as members of Active Minds led the crowd in releasing stress during the Scream Fest.
Dani Fishman, a senior food science and nutrition major, said releasing stress by screaming was a rewarding experience.
“It looked interesting; it looked like something fun,” said Fishman. “I know a lot of people who suffer from mental illnesses and I figured it was for a pretty good cause.”
Active Minds is a new student organization that strives to “reduce stigma through education, advocacy and awareness of mental illness,” said Becca Frazee, the president of the CSU chapter and senior psychology major.
The organization currently has 15 members; some deal with mental illnesses, while others have family members with mental illnesses, and still others are just interested in the subject.
“No matter what the reason, they all care so much that this organization is just thriving,” Frazee said. “This month alone we’ve had nine programs, and all of them have been so successful.”
Frazee’s personal interest comes from her experience with bipolar disorder, with which she was diagnosed at age 14.
At 15, she attempted suicide. She also has seasonal affective disorder, so in the fall her mood goes down and in the spring it comes up again. Her grades follow her mood.
“It really is a fight to stay afloat,” Frazee said. “I do that by staying on my medication and seeing my doctor regularly. I have to be very careful about alcohol intake, caffeine intake, keeping a regular sleep schedule, keeping a regular exercise schedule and getting plenty of sunlight.”
During her senior year of high school, Frazee completed a research project on bipolar disorder, and decided then that she wanted to go into psychology. She has managed to avoid suicidal thoughts throughout her four years at CSU and is set to graduate in December of 2006.
Active Minds hopes to reduce stigma that Frazee and others with mental illnesses have had to deal with. Frazee said she feels that, because of the stigma, people who need help are not reaching out for it.
“It’s like a prejudice,” she said. “People don’t understand what mental illness is, and our media does not portray it very well. Our media thinks it’s criminal and the only time you ever hear about it on the news is because somebody has done something tragic.”
The group meets twice a month to plan programs like Scream Fest and Movie Madness, when the group shows movies about mental illness, followed by a mental health panel.
“On our panels we usually have mental health professionals and people who have suffered from the mental illness portrayed in the movie,” Frazee said. “Sometimes movies will portray mental illness kind of inaccurately or don’t reduce stigma quite the way we would like it. The panel is there to answer any questions and make it real.”
A student who thinks he or she may have a mental illness or knows someone who does can go to the University Counseling Center. The center offers five free counseling sessions per semester, as well as referrals to the Learning Assistance Center and Hartshorn Health Service for a medical evaluation if needed.
According to Kathy McKinney, a founder of Active Minds at CSU and intern at the counseling center, there has been an increase in the number of severe cases of mental illnesses and an increase in the number of total students seeking treatment at the center. There have been increases throughout the nation.
“One reason why mental health issues are a problem on college campuses is that the age of onset for many disorders is around that age,” McKinney said.
Between 20 and 30 percent of college students come to school with some kind of mental disorder, the most common being adjustment disorder. About 30 percent of students feel so overwhelmed they can’t function and do their academic work, McKinney said.
Active Minds’ next meeting is on Wednesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. in the Wellness Zone and the next Movie Madness will take place Thursday, April 27 at 6:30 p.m. in the Lory Student Center.